With years of experience behind them and an abundant following of celebrities and beach lovers alike, we’re talking so much more than just a bikini brand. They’ve made an enormous impact on the swimwear industry by contributing to ethical change by cultivating innovative designs that embrace the culture of conscious living. Considered to be evolutionary within the fashion industry (FYI – one of the worlds most prominent exports, valued at well over 3 trillion dollars!), their efforts don’t go unnoticed.
To actively embrace environmentally friendly methods, without sacrificing style, quality or aesthetic, is a skill possessed by few, but commended by many.
The latest Collection is something to live for, and our very own Natasha Oakley has chosen her absolute faves from the new range, giving you an exclusive first look at the Spring Collection from a brand we sincerely admire. She was also able to share a few special moments with Amahlia Stevens, the creative genius/designer behind one of the industries most influential Swim & Beachwear brands…
I think I would have ended up a painter or fine art printmaker. Those are my first loves, besides bikinis, and what I went to school for. Before I got into swimwear, I designed apparel for some pretty cool brands, including some of the first concepts for Levi’s Red line in Europe. The funny thing is I owned a design consulting firm for 7 years and no one would hire me for my dream job, designing swimwear, because I didn’t have that specific experience on my resume. I couldn’t get that dream job, even though I pretty much lived in a bikini since birth- so I started Vitamin A to cure my passion and desire for the bikini that had yet to exist …simple, clean, sophisticated and sexy.
We’ve seen a lot of innovative design ideas come out of Vitamin A, including conservation efforts and endeavours to minimise your environmental footprint. What led you to take such an environmentally conscious route with your brand, and can you describe the journey it’s taken the brand on so far?
I grew up in California, swimming, snowboarding, hiking and mountain biking, so I think appreciating nature is in my blood, and has definitely carried over into the DNA of the brand. I also had an amazing role model in Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and a pioneer in the eco movement. We first met when I designed a line of swim and beachwear years ago for Patagonia, and it was then I learned how Yvon redefined the outdoor industry by creating technical fabrics from fibers of recycled plastic bottles. I thought if he could create these fibers for outerwear, then surely I could create something similar for swimwear. All I could find were fabrics that felt heavy and scratchy, or were super gimmicky, like corn-based products, and weren’t really ecologically advantageous. I was told by my fabric suppliers there was no market for swimwear made from recycled fibers, so I decided to make it myself. For 3 years I worked with mills in Italy and Canada, and I finally succeeded with a local mill here in California. After those 3 years of trials, we perfected and came to market in 2010 with EcoLuxTM, the first premium swim fabric made from recycled nylon that combined sustainability and technology to fit like a sexy, second skin. I like to call the concept “Style+ Substance”. Other ways we reduce our environmental footprint are by employing waterless digital printing technology, incorporating other sustainable materials like Eco Linen and organic cotton + polyester that’s made from recycled plastic bottles (full circle, right?), and by producing locally which dramatically reduces our use of fossil fuels for shipping and transporting raw materials. This year, Vitamin A has also decided to become a member of 1% For The Planet, with donations going towards organizations that protect and preserve clean water, so we can always live, work and swim happy and healthy. I’m really proud of this, and I’m encouraged that both the business and fashion communities are embracing the concept that something good for the environment can also look great and be good for business.
How important has this been to the growth of Vitamin A and how has the response been?
I’m honestly not sure how important sustainability has been for the growth of the brand so far, but I think that’s changing… Vitamin A has grown more and more every year, but I see that growth more as a response to our innovations in swimwear quality, fit and styling the label has always been known for. It’s only in the past few years through social media that the brand story has been told directly to our customers, and women are now discovering another reason to love Vitamin A. The sustainability factor is like an added bonus, and I do think there’s an emerging awareness, now more than ever, that our choices matter, and our values can be reflected in everything we do, or even buy. I believe this message of sustainability is becoming even more important to a new generation of bikini lovers, as well as young moms who care about the planet they leave behind.
Tell us a bit about what attracted you to designing swimwear…
Growing up in California, I’ve always been obsessed with swimsuits- they were like a uniform for me, and I’m not just talking on the beach. I would layer them with everything I wore. When I was in college, I did some modeling for swimsuit and wetsuit companies, so I always had boxes full of free swimsuits – but there was never that perfect one, and most would be tossed or given away. So I decided to make my own, and create exactly what I wanted to wear to fit my body like it should. I went to an old school custom swimwear shop in Laguna Beach and had them help draft the patterns for my perfect fit, which later became known as, “The California Cut.” I was also a size smaller on top than on bottom, and at that time there were no options to buy elevated, understated bikinis as separates. I made a few, and from there it just started taking off. Now I see women like you Tash Oakley, Bella Hadid, Chiara Ferragni and Beyonce wearing my stuff and it’s so amazing! I’m super grateful.
What do you see as your biggest achievement thus far, and what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Building a brand I’m proud of, going to work every day, still excited about what I’m doing, and then going home to enjoy time with my family. I feel lucky to have a great balance of creative and personal life, and one is always inspiring the other. It’s also nice when I get to combine the two on an exotic adventure. In the future I hope to expand the Vitamin A lifestyle internationally, across a range of new product categories.
Who are some of the people that have guided and inspired you?
I have a few!
Yvon Chouinard, an American rock climber, environmentalist, and outdoor industry businessman. His company, Patagonia, is known for its environmental focus. Working with him as a design consultant for Patagonia changed the way I see my work, and his 2005 book, Let My People Go Surfing, inspired the way I think about design and business.
Stella McCartney, who everyone knows as an incredibly talented designer and lifelong vegetarian who doesn’t utilize any leather or fur in her designs. She uses her design platform to support PETA, and has been the leading voice for chic activism in the fashion world. I think she’s a creative force who pioneers new technologies and materials in the most fashionable way, and I’m completely inspired by her accomplishments.
Yael Aflalo, the founder of Reformation. I think she’s doing for women’s clothing what I hope I do for women’s swimwear. I love her tagline: We make killer clothes that don’t kill the environment. I’m so impressed by how her website makes environmental conservation look and feel so fun.
How has the evolution of social media affected the growth of your brand?
In the past, our brand message would stop at the retailers who sell Vitamin A in their boutiques. Or we would get a magazine feature that would be off the shelves and forgotten after a month. Now with social media, we can speak directly to our customers and tell our own story, from the amazing babes all over the world wearing Vitamin A on their adventures, to our design values and sustainability practices that distinguish Vitamin A from the pack.
What is your motto/ favourite quote?
“THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY”
I read somewhere a definition of this phrase that rang true to me, in that the term urges people to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities. Long before governments began enforcing environmental laws, individuals were coming together to protect habitats and the organisms that live within them. These efforts are referred to as grassroots efforts. They occur on a local level and are primarily run by volunteers and helpers.
“Think Globally, Act Locally” originally began at the grassroots level, however, it is now a global concept with high importance. It is not just volunteers who take the environment into consideration. It is corporations, government officials, education systems, and local communities.
I try to expand on this with the idea of an international design style being informed by a local California aesthetic.